Lewis Hamilton says his Mercedes team do not have the pace to compete with Ferrari and Lotus.
The Brit started on pole in China but finished third behind Fernando Alonso's Ferrari and Lotus's Kimi Raikkonen.
"We just don't have the pace of the Ferraris and the Lotuses in the race conditions," said Hamilton, 28.
"I'm not sure where we're losing out. There's definitely a couple of areas that we can focus on on the car but we've got to bring some more updates."
Hamilton was cautious on his chances of victory after securing his first pole position for Mercedes since joining the team this season.
And on race day, it soon became clear the 2008 world champion did not have the pace to challenge the Ferraris and Lotuses.
"After this I will go and analyse a little bit and try to figure out whereabouts we're losing the time and see if we can zone in on that and try to improve there," he added.
"You've got to remember that as we progress everybody else is progressing at the same time.
"So we've got to do double steps compared to what the other people are doing. The guys are doing a great job at the factory but it's difficult to know how long it will take us [to catch the frontrunners].
"It's difficult to know how much pace we will need because in qualifying we are there but in race conditions we are not. Who knows, the next race might be a real good one for us."
Hamilton began closing on Raikkonen for second after the final stops but then dropped back and was put under pressure by Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel, who was on fresh soft tyres, before managing to hold the charging world champion off.
"I was seeming to be able to apply a little bit of pressure to Kimi but not enough to get close to him and overtake," he said.
"My tyres were shot at the end and there was nothing I could do really to hold off Sebastian. [I was] a little bit unlucky with some traffic. But I just managed to hold onto it.
"I would have loved to have won and I never like going backwards. Still, to get on the podium, [I am] really happy - really happy with the points as well."